South Carolina Poll: Joe Biden Still on Top as 2020 Race Shakes Up

FLORENCE, SC - OCTOBER 26: Democratic presidential candidate, former vice President Joe Biden takes photos with people in the crowd at Wilson High School on October 26, 2019 in Florence, South Carolina. Many presidential hopefuls campaigned in the early primary state over the weekend, scheduling stops around a criminal justice …
Sean Rayford/Getty Images

The race for the 2020 Democrat presidential nomination may be in flux, with new candidates entering the fray and old ones surging ahead of the Iowa Caucuses, but one thing has remained the same—former Vice President Joe Biden is the undisputed favorite in South Carolina.

A new CBS/YouGov survey released on Sunday confirmed as much, with the former vice president leading by nearly 30 percentage points in South Carolina. Biden, who has led every single poll coming out of the Palmetto State since announcing his candidacy in April, commands 45 percent support among registered Democrats.

Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), who ranks higher than Biden in several national and early state polls, garnered second place with 17 percent. Her position, however, is extremely tenuous as Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) is close behind in third place at 15 percent.

South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg and Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA) rounded out the top five in South Carolina at eight percent and five percent respectively.

Biden’s positions seemed to strike a chord with those polled, 59 percent of whom self-identified as somewhat liberal or moderate. When asked to describe the candidates by their qualities, 60 percent of South Carolina Democrats claimed Biden was “safe,” while 55 percent said the former vice president was “down to earth.” A further 71 percent believed Biden’s policy stances were “about right for defeating [President] Donald Trump” in 2020.

Warren, meanwhile, despite being described as the most exciting candidate of the top three, was also seen as “risky” by 40 percent of South Carolina. Likewise, 42 percent of voters in the Palmetto state said the same thing about Sanders, a self-avowed Democrat socialist.

The poll, which was conducted November 6 through November 13 by surveying 933 registered Democrats in South Carolina, had a margin of error of +/- 4.2 percentage points.

Biden’s commanding position in South Carolina is due in part to his support within the black community. In South Carolina, as across the entire South, black voters are a substantial portion of the Democrat electorate. A recent survey from Monmouth Poll estimated that more than six-in-ten of South Carolina’s likely Democrat primary voters will be black in 2020.

Although the CBS/YouGov did not break down the candidates’ level of support by race, a poll conducted by Winthrop University in October found Biden being the favorite of 46 percent of black Democrats across South Carolina. Such support, which has remained in tact even after contentious revelations about the former vice president’s position on race throughout the years, gives Biden an upper hand over his Democrat rivals as the primary contest is in flux.

In recent weeks the Democrat primary has been upended by several high profile developments. Biden, who once led the field by double digits, has dropped to fourth place in Iowa and been eclipsed nationally by Warren since the start of the Democrats’ impeachment inquiry. In particular, Biden has seen his popularity dip amid revelations that his youngest son Hunter’s wheeling and dealing overseas may have presented conflicts of interest for the former vice president’s political position. Biden’s faltering in the polls has coincided with fundraising troubles that forced his campaign into jettisoning its pledge not to accept help from Super PACs.

As Biden’s campaign has struggled to remain viable, Buttigieg’s momentum has begun soaring in Iowa. Several polls released from the state last week show the mayor has catapulted over Biden, Sanders, and Warren into first place. A Des Moines Register poll from Saturday had Buttigieg leading Warren, 25 percent to 16 percent. The mayor’s newfound frontrunner status in Iowa opens up the possibility of a fractured race coming out of the early contests, provided Warren continues leading in New Hampshire and Biden remains atop in South Carolina.

Shaking up the race further is the addition of more candidates, at the time when historically the field is supposed to winnow. Most notably, former Gov. Deval Patrick (D-MA), an intimate of President Barack Obama, announced his candidacy last week after having declined earlier entreaties to enter the race. Patrick, despite lacking national name recognition and a campaign apparatus, is seen as a prolific orator, with even Obama being known to occasionally lift lines from the governor’s speeches.

Another likely late entrant is former New York City Michael Bloomberg, who has promised to spend “whatever it takes” to win the nomination. Although Bloomberg is still officially just mulling a bid, the former mayor’s decision to file for the Alabama and Arkansas Democrat primaries, as well as a public mea culpa for stop-and-frisk, seem to imply he’s already running.

As both Bloomberg and Patrick are seen as establishment-friendly Democrats, their decisions to enter the 2020 race are likely to have the most impact on Biden. The former vice president has been viewed as the moderate alternative to progressive firebrands like Sanders and Warren. His success in the race to date has been because other candidates in the same lane have neither the resources nor the national attention to properly compete. It is unclear, though, if either Bloomberg or Patrick will present a credible threat to Biden given the fractured state of the 2020 field and the former vice president’s position in South Carolina.

When respondents in the CBS/YouGov survey were asked if Bloomberg’s potential candidacy would have any impact on those they were already supporting, 36 percent said it would not, while 43 percent said they didn’t know enough about him to answer. Since Patrick was not an announced candidate at the time the poll was taken, CBS/YouGov did not include him on its survey.

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